To cover well over 1,000 miles through five states in the middle of the continent, you have to have the right vehicle.
In this case, the 2020 Toyota Camry SE was the right vehicle for this job.
My ideal road trip car was the Camry – or, anything in the mid-size family sedan class. It would make sense for obvious reasons.
The vehicle for the road trip could have easily been an SUV, but I feared it would be less efficient even the larger interior and cargo space. Heck, it could have been a pickup truck. I would have to utilize the back seat for the luggage and the "stowaway" to reside in. A smaller car would also have compromises with luggage compared to the Camry.
It made sense that the Camry would be my desired vehicle for this road trip. This car was perfect considering my goals towards achieving great fuel economy, a comfortable ride, good maneuverability, and solid highway performance.
The SE model also proved to fit with this road trip. The sportier trim offered solid comfort inside with the combined cloth and SofTex upholstery, and key features that would make this trip easier on me. Not to mention, the black paint job is really cool to look at from the hotel window.
I got lucky on this rental. The Camry began with just around 150 miles on the odometer. Originally, this was supposed to be used for a local meeting I was invited to attend. That meeting was postponed, which afforded the opportunity to do this road trip sooner than originally scheduled. I asked Avis for an extension, which they fulfilled to cover the time for this road trip.
With everything aligned the way I envisioned this road trip to be, the Camry delivered on my expectations with flying colors.
First, the performance of the 203-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and the eight-speed automatic transmission was spot on. It cruised extremely well on the highway and did passing maneuvers like a pro. The Camry SE was also a champ in town, making all the right moves when it needed to.
By the time I got home after seven days, my average fuel economy was beyond my expectations. At 33.4 MPG, I was happy that my fuel bills were easy on my wallet.
Ride quality was great! On smooth sections of the Interstate, the Camry was relaxing to drive. On rougher section of the city streets, the Camry held its own by being absorbent from the bumps and ruts. It handled extremely well, especially on u-turns and on twisty sections in beautiful neighborhoods.
It helps to have a good steering rack and solid on-center feel. The Camry's steering system was a key factor in achieving the trip’s expectations to the point. The brakes also played a huge part. Normal and panic stops were done with ease and in a short distance. Pedal feel is excellent.
It is probably a good thing that we talk about the Camry’s driving dynamics, first. They played a huge role in making sure I get from city to city, state to state with nominal stress.
One key factor in achieving a low-stress drive is the use of Dynamic Radar Cruise Control in the Camry. The reason why I consider this one of my favorite features on any vehicle is because it eliminates the guess work on pedal action, brake action, and maintaining highway speeds in places I took this sedan in. This feature helped in the success of this road trip.
It also helps to have smartphone connectivity on board for better entertainment, navigation, and communications. The Camry’s system is well integrated with Apple CarPlay to supplant the absence of a native GPS system – or the use of the Scout app through Toyota’s Entune 3. I did mention that Apple Maps failed me the time I was trying to reach the hotel in Overland Park, Kansas that final night of the trip. This was clearly not the Camry’s fault.
Space was also spot on. My critical piece for the Camry was the trunk, which held 15.1 cubic feet. Between my large piece of luggage and Boomer in his new bag, I only had space for my backpack to fit in the trunk when I need extra security for the car and my belongings on the road.
Still, the Camry SE’s seats were comfortable for the driving stints over the miles and sections of highway. I experienced no fatigue or discomfort behind the wheel. Heck, I could have brought three of my friends along. I would have to leave Boomer at home to accommodate their luggage, however.
If you were to buy a Camry SE like the one I drove, the sticker price for this specification would come to $27,125. That is a really good value.
However, I was missing some features that would make this trip even better. For example, Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. You would think that AvisBudget’s fleet buyers would consider the safety of their customers a bit better if they equipped most of their vehicles with the features. Rather, Toyota should make those features standard on the SE trim level.
Still, the Mid-Continent Road Trip would not have been successful without its most critical component – the car. To that end, the 2020 Toyota Camry SE was the right vehicle to accomplish well over a thousand miles over five states of this “epic” road trip.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle was rented by Victory & Reseda, along with all travel expenses paid by this publication.
All photos by Randy Stern